Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Back to Basics

Well by now I’d worn the VFF’s a few times and even though I’d been initially impressed I’d started to get a little tired of the endless comments, feedback and looks and also a little concerned by the lack of grip on the trails.

I’d invested in a pair of Injinji Performance Midweight Toe Socks as the VFF’s were rubbing the post-op scars a little to the point they were regularly getting infected (nice I know) so I brought these to add a little comfort. Out the box I must say they seam (ha ha) very well made. They weren’t the cheapest buy as they say….. money spent on comfort is seldom wasted. The other main different of these versus normal socks was the fact they have matching toes like Vibrams.

What I didn’t think about until I got them was that these are probably good for wearing even with normal footwear. If anyone has ever suffered blisters on toes surely these can help? Also in the military, if on guard during a cold night, these must keep your feet warmer as each toe is covered? Well I tested these and found them great! http://www.climbers-shop.com/9862016/products/injinji_performance_midweight_sock.aspx

As mentioned above, I was growing a little frustrated by the VFF’s so started to look at other options. By now I’d decided that road running for me was a thing of the past so I needed some true off-road trail options. Since reading Born to Run I’d been fascinated by the running flip flops (huaraches) of the Ramurai and heard that Barefoot Ted from the book had started his own sandal company in Seattle USA. Called Luna Sandals after Manual Luna from the Copper Canyons of New Mexico (also in the book), I had a look at their website https://www.lunasandals.com/ and decided I’d try some Leadville’s as they featured the thickest sole that would work with stone trails of the UK and ATS “laces”.

Well what can I say? Simplicity doesn’t come cheap! $100 later the order was placed and all I had to do was wait for them to be custom made. I’d read many reviews on these sandals and as the name of them suggests, they were born from quality ultra trail running roots. As well as the desire to get back to basics with running with the purist footwear before going true barefoot (ouch) another reason for trying them was the fact that they could never rub my scars! Well a few weeks later they turned up with a free t-shirt J. I decided to break them in by wearing them around town first.

As you can see, they are a traditional “toe” design flip flop and to those not in the know would probably think they were 99p from a beach shop! Well like the 99p items, I was initially concerned that my toes would be soon a bloody mess and I wouldn’t be able to run anywhere. I needn’t of worried though as they were very comfortable from the start. I decided the time was right to give them their first run so I took them to work for a 4.5m jog around Laindon Hills Park. They felt great with nice off-road grip thanks to the Vibram soles and the feeling of being almost barefoot brought me back to my childhood (almost). The only down side was on road they did sound a little silly as they “slapped” along but I’m sure that will change when I fully convert to forefoot striking.

Later I wore the Luna’s at least once a week with 6.5 miles being the longest run yet. I have to admit they are my current favoutite shoes with the only down side now being in the wet they are a little slippy on the footbed and on uneven surfaces the foot does move, but in the dry on trails they are awesome!

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Daisy Age

It had been 5 weeks since the op and I’d decided I can’t wait any longer. I’ve been riding the bike for a week and even though that’s great, I need to move up a level. Today was the day I tried to run.

I’d been thinking about what to do first time out…. 500m on grass? A 2 minute jog around the block? Then there’s what to wear! Road shoes, off-road shoes or even the Vibrams!!!!! I packed my kit for work and decide whatever I do it would have to be short and easy, so I packed the VFF’s and decided to try a mile on a treadmill at work. Come lunch time I had to fight my way into the gym (literally as it was packed). As soon as I pull the VFF’s out the bag people are looking at me. This is something that you need to get used to BTW when you start wearing these. People will at first stare in amazement and shock then finally they will have to ask you what the hell are you wearing and WHY! (get used to it!)

I do a couple of light stretches and climb aboard the treadmill feeling like some kind of “aquaman” freak of nature. I start slow and I can instantly feel an old niggle I had in the injured foot. A burning feeling in the ball of the foot called “Metatarsalgia” (google it). It results from weakened ligaments in the toes etc. which cause pain, mostly in ladies wearing heels (go on say it!) I carry on anyway as this is no worse than I’ve had previously and I guess to be expected. I’m starting to feel good when in the gym mirrors I notice that people are looking again… This time it hits me why. Above all the music and grunts from the power lifters, all that could be heard was “slap, slap, bang, bang” with every step I took. I tried to be as light on my toes and in the end stopped caring.

After a mile and a half, I decided to call it a day. It felt quite good and I didn’t want to push it. What I did notice was my running style. Due to the lack of heel on the VFF’s, mid/front foot striking seemed to happed naturally without thinking. I also tried to stand upright and increase the number of paces taken (whilst making them shorter) as this is supposed to help the transition. Well the first time out went well and I was more than pleased with the VFF’s. I’d give it a few days of rest, then try again.

Well one day rest to be exact! I’d been trying to get my children into running for years and after a few runs out few my son, he soon became more interested in all things computers so I switched focus the my younger 7 year old daughter. Katie was far more eager than Ali to run so I decided that I should introduce her to a trail race. I’d walked 7 miles plus across country with her on several occasions so thought that she could cover the distance even if she ran/walked. So I picked a 6.5 mile trail based in Tiptree Essex for first baptism of fire! We spent a small fortune on pink running gear and she was bursting with excitement, then we were off! 30 mins later, that excitement had some what waned and she was walking most of the time and had also ran out of water (it was a little hot but I later found she had used the water to rehydrate the flowers on the route!). As well as Kate’s first race, there was also a first for me as I chose to wear the VFF’s!

They actually felt nice as we skipped through the cornfields as you could feel the ground under your feet and your toes could actually grip on the ground as you ran feeling like you were moulding around every rock etc. It’s hard to describe how it felt but for some reason it almost felt like running as a child barefoot in the garden (if that makes sense?) What wasn’t so great was the occasional rock which considering you only had 2mm of neoprene between you and the ground felt a little sharp but generally not too bad. After managing to take a couple of wrong turns, 6.5 changed to 7.5 but by the time we took the last turn and saw the finish Katie was smiling.

So overall, the VFF’s were actually quite good. To sum up… They did lack a little grip when it got very muddy and wet but even then in road shoes you would have slipped so not bad at all, also in road shoes you don’t get the added benefit of various plants including daisies getting stuck in-between your toes “hippy style”. Would I wear them again yes (despite the looks).

Peace out!

Thursday, 12 July 2012

On your bike!

Well 3 weeks had now passed and I was growing increasingly frustrated with my lack of movement from my seat but now it was time to step it up a level (did you see what I did there?) This was due to last week the doctor had giving me the all clear to start cycling. I just about squeezed by swollen foot into a trainer (minus footbed) and did 20 mins on the exercise bike in the gym at work as a tester. This was low impact and the only real issue I had was the toe strap rubbing a little so I decided I was good to go in the real world.

I dug out my Trek Hybrid bike and rode around the block…. All good! The next day I thought “what the heck” and in the rain, shot off on the back roads to Danbury and back, it felt great. I’d not been on my bike for months and the sense of finally breaking free of the arm chair made it seem all the better. Nearly 10 miles later and 20mph plus downhill left me soaked through but wanting for more.

One ride was also all it took for me to decide that I needed a new bike! The hybrid was ok but I also had a full suspension Specialized MTB and I needed to clear some room and down size so the obvious choice was sell both and buy something sweet! After a couple of days advertising the old bikes they had gone. I’d been looking around and decided that I fancied a hard tail MTB that I could also ride on slicks if I wanted to ride to work etc. Well one walk around Halfords was all it took. I walked past the Boardman bikes stand and a hard tail sold forked MTB took my eye…. No thrills and little weight, this was old skool baby.

The deal was done and I arranged to pick it up built a few days later (big mistake!)  During the ride home my handle bars came loose and I almost ended up under a truck on a huge roundabout. I check all the hardware when I got home and none were to torque with some barely over hand tight! NEVER buy a bike from Halfords unless you have too.

As you can see from the pic, the solid carbon forks and skinny slick Conti rubber made it the perfect commuter bike and in the next few weeks I indeed started to ride it to work and back (approx. 24 miles). I’m still trying to do this at least once a week but it’s a little difficult as you need to plan so much.

Anyway, one more week and the trainers could be back in anger!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Recovery

Well post 3 Forts, everything looked good and it was the following week that I had my foot op.

I was sold on all things trail and ultra by now and spent my recovery time reading Born to run and every running magazine in the newsagents. My recovery plan had me waiting at least 6 weeks before any type of running as this was how long the bone takes to heal, so I looked to get back into cycling again as this was lower impact and carried on reading.

I’d by now also decided that I would give barefoot running a go as I was going to take it easy when I started so I would be doing low miles anyway so what did I have to lose? I’d been doing more research on the type of footwear to use and the two choices seemed to be “hardcore” toe-type slippers or reduce heal drop “minimal” shoes. A good friend at work Mark Williams (get well soon mate!) showed me his Inov-8 rubber footwear and even though they were impressive, they are a little too extreme for me. I decided to go for it and ordered a pair of black Vibram 5 Fingers (or VFFs) off ebay.

The first thing for anyone to consider when purchasing VFF’s is that most pairs sold on the internet are fakes! 100% of the ones on ebay are not genuine and I have to admit I knew this beforehand. If the price is too good to be true, it normally is! A friend though had some fakes and said that they were actually ok and I thought if it goes wrong then better to waste £45 not £115. Well they turned up pretty quick and I have to say they were of pretty good quality. As with everything made in the far east, they were probably made in the same factory but sold out the back door.

They featured a 2mm thick rubber sole with little thread pattern and neoprene upper secure with a Velcro strap. For the next couple of weeks I regularly looked at them imagining what it would feel like becoming “one with nature”

But for now I had to wait L

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

It's the end of the road (as we know it)

The book that started it all!

Born to Run - Chris Mcdougall

What I won't go into is an in-depth review of the book. I have to admit I loved it and could have carried on reading it as I didn't want it to end.

As I've already said, one of the main reasons for buying the book was that I was interested in swapping road running for off-road long distance as I was growing more frustrated with endless tarmac and min/mile targets and clock watching.

I'd spent almost every day for 4 months training for London Marathon and went through the pain that most of us go through i.e. early starts for morning runs, snow and the physical pain of the miles building. I was spending the same amount of time and money as I do every year on new anti-pronation footwear, insoles and physio.

Well I got to the start of London feeling great and set about joining the Runners World Magazine sub 4 hr group. Well the conditions were a little warm but not bad and till about 10 miles I was feeling ok but then the wheels fell off big time! By the halfway point I'd dropped back from the pacing group and I felt like I'd already hit the wall as I noticed a real lack of energy exactly as I did in last years race.

I'd had a bout of stomach flu a couple of weeks before and I don't think I was 100% over it as I started getting painful cramps that slowed me down to a walking pace from 17 miles. Well I dragged myself around to finish in 4.30 and even though it was the first marathon that I'd run the whole way round, I was done, game over.

I decided then NEVER to run another marathon as this was my 3rd London and I have to admit I hated it. The crowds were huge and I couldn't move in the first half of the race getting hit from all sides and I always find the second half of the race hard and visually dull.

When I spoke to some friends at the finish, many said the same thing and we all decided that off-road might be the way forward for all of us? Well I got home and....... YES you guessed it, I entered London again next year! I just can't help myself :( I have decided though to treat it like a training run and maybe even don some fancy dress IF I get in.

What I also did was stick to my guns on committing to off-road races and entered the 3 Forts South Downs Marathon (nick-named "the tough one") which was a couple of weeks away and Beachy Head Marathon in October. 3 Forts was actually a 27 miler and I turned up near Brighton on the day with a plan to enjoy the views and not look at the watch in the race.

I found the first 20 miles quite easy but started to feel it for the last 7 miles. I had no idea of the time I'd taken and thought it was slow as the weather was poor and the ground very boggy at times BUT when I raced to the finish and looked at the clock I was pleased to see 5 hrs 13 mins.... not bad and I loved it!

It's all downhill from here!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Going for the chop!

This next section should really be entitled "seemed like a good idea at the time!

When the surgeon told me a few years ago that I might have to have this foot op, I managed to put it off for over two years! But eventually I thought whilst I was still (relatively) young, I should probably get it done as the lumps on my feet wouldn't be getting any smaller.

Well post op everything looked rosie, and that wasn't just the colour of the fluid leaking out of my bandaged foot! I actually walked out of the hospital (on crutches) the same day and I was thinking that the only issue I'd be having was shifting the strange pins and needles feeling from the general anaesthetic.

That was until the drugs wore off :(   The pain was "reasonable" and even though I had pain killers, I decided not to take them as I thought I'd save them for when it really started to kick in.

Anyway cutting a very boring story short.... eventually the pain did fade and after ten days the dressing came off and the stitches were trimmed. By now I was walking without support and had tried to keep in the fitness routine by borrowing some 25 kg kettle bells from a friend.

The doctor said that I should be able to cycle as soon as comfortable maybe after a week and could even start to light jog short distances possibly after another two? Soon I was wearing normal shoes again but had to remove the insoles as the foot was still swollen.

I created a Post-Op fitness plan and set out goals that I could try to achieve and this helped as I had things aim for. During this time I was told I couldn't return to work (which I never even thought would happen) and settled down to a routine of TV, magazines and books. It was one of these books that resulted in the creation of this thread.

I'd brought a copy of Born to Run by Chris Mcdougall whilst at the London Marathon Expo as it was cheap and i'd heard of it but I'd never even turned a page yet, I brought it as i was interested in running futher! I knew about Vibram 5 Finger running "shoes" (VFF's to those in the know) for years but had thought of them as a gimmick and for strange people to try and than relegate to the bin.

Well I was now really bored at home and decided to give the book a go. Well the rest as they say is history!

Friday, 6 July 2012


I've been running for fun for a few years now and even though I'll never win any races, I've taken part in over 10+ marathons and consider myself a jogger :)
Like anyone that runs regularly, I'd grown increasingly frustrated at the amount of time and money lost to running related injuries.
So far I've had Shin Splints, Compartment Syndrome, ITB Pain, Planter Foot Pain, you name it, I've had it.... I've paid for Physio, Sports massage and podiatrists for specific insoles.
This has resulted in a large collection supportive running shoes which grow in size every year! (unlike my bank balance!)
Well all that was about to change (hopefully)!
Hope a number of years I'd been suffering from years of ill-fitting shoes as a child and as a result I had a bunion and a bunionette (strange I know) on my right foot. These were causing me a little pain so after a few consultations, the surgeon decided I needed to go under the knife!
Well I decided on a date of May 11th as this was post London and 3 Forts Marathon and on the day I had the op which left me on crutches and with little vision on how I was EVER going to run again!
This is the story of my recovery.........